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Empowering trust and security from hardware

Department of Computer Science and Technology

Hundreds of microns thick, several millimetre wide, computer chips are everywhere and the heart of the devices we rely on every day. While their unit cost is very small (some tens of pence), they actually need to sustain a full spectrum of attacks, from software to hardware-based such as side-channel, fault and invasive attacks. On one hand, less critical data are stored on embedded devices and calculations may be directly performed on encrypted data. On the other hand, various hardware root of trust and technology/architecture (including countermeasures) are assumed secure.

Within the Department of Computer Science and Technology Security Group, with the need to understand weaknesses to improve matters, we also characterise low-level hard-ware features. A recent access to a multi-million pounds lab facilities will further help such hardware security research. From sample preparation (mechanical/chemical/plasma) to microscopy imaging (optical/electron/laser), in-depth silicon level analysis is added to our previous side-channel and fault attacks/testing capabilities.

This initiative is interdisciplinary and includes various materials, chemistry, physics, electrical engineering and computer science aspects. While starting to gather large datasets, we are building in-house post-processing tools before exploring possible countermeasures. We complete such capabilities with access to state-of-the-art Focused Ion Beam (FIB) and XRAY facilities for nanometre scale integrated circuit modification and imaging.

At last, we are keen to announce the creation of a dedicated hardware security teaching class for our postgraduate students, with unique data to play with and practicals to resolve.

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